ALBUM REVIEW: The Wailin’ Jennys – “Bright Morning Stars”

If you’re looking for the next great crossover folk album, look no further than the Wailin’ Jenny’s Bright Morning Stars. The album, from Winnipeg, Manitoba’s Juno-award winning folk combo, is one of the finest folk albums to come out in years, blending classic Americana songwriting with a tinge of early Dixie Chicks styled harmonics, and it’s the kind of album which plays so cohesively from start to finish it will dare you not to listen repeatedly.

The word “crossover” was made for the album’s opening track, “Swing Low, Sail High,” which country radio programmers should be frothing at the mouth to give airplay to. It’s a beautifully melodic piece of harmony-based songwriting, with a lyric that moves from heartbreak to salvation in four minutes. “Setting sun don’t weep for all the things you lose, morning comes as sure as it must die” soprano Ruth Moody sings late in the song, and it’s heartbreaking and redeeming at the same time in its simplicity.

The trio’s musicianship is sublime. Each track smartly layers instruments constructively, in that nothing ever overpowers. Each element plays into the whole to help fuel the overall melodic structure, even down to the multi-layered background vocals which rarely miss the mark. All this is put on full and stunning display on the album’s central track, “Bright Morning Stars,” a public-domain folk melody which has been performed notably in the past by Emmylou Harris, among many others. The Wailin’ Jennys do the song in pure, beautiful a cappella, layering their vocals to form a haunting, ethereal core to the album.

The remaining songs on the album orbit this center, creating a radiant whole which shines like the stars of the album’s title. Rarely does a vocal trio shine so brightly in almost every aspect of their performances on a full album, and they deserve to receive wider exposure beyond the borders of Manitoba. No one else in Americana-based folk music is crafting original songs this haunting and inviting, which makes Bright Morning Stars stand out all the more.

Bright Morning Stars is currently charting at #12 on Billboard’s Folk Albums chart and at #4 on the Bluegrass chart. Wouldn’t it be great, though, if the album were to catch on with fans of general country? In a world where Taylor Swift is a worldwide superstar bringing pop music to so called “traditional” country stations, it’s about time real roots music made a comeback. This album is the most deserving so far of 2011 to get that shot.